In the world of software project management there's something called the iron triangle. The three sides of the triangle represent the three constraints of development: scope, time, and resources. The thought is that you can't change one of those items without impacting the other two. For instance, if you increase the scope of a project (the amount of stuff in the project) you're going to impact the amount of time it takes and the number of resources it will take to get the project done. It's a very nice metaphor but it does lack one attribute, quality. Some say that the iron triangle should really be a square, rectangle, or rhombus but there are those (like myself) who say that quality is part of your scope...that it's actually one of the requirements of developing something to spec. In any case the project managers at Naughty Dog owe the software development world a case study as Uncharted 2 is easily one of the highest pieces of quality software I've ever seen.
Uncharted was one of the best exclusives to come out for the PS3. While it did have a little bit of awkwardness towards the end of the game it was a good blend of shooting, platforming, and puzzle solving. Of course this is like saying that the Camaro is my favorite Chevrolet given the lack of high quality PS3 exclusives but the game had an undeniable charm that somehow slipped under the radar of the gaming world. Thankfully the game did well enough to enable the folks at Naughty Dog to give gamers with the opportunity to don the half tucked shirt of Nathan Drake again as Uncharted 2 is near gaming perfection.
Like the original game, Uncharted 2 doesn't break a lot of new ground in terms of gameplay but rather refines it and polishes it to perfection. Instead of coming up with it's own signature gameplay mechanic the folks at Naughty Dog have focused on perfecting existing mechanics with an emphasis on story telling and execution. Sure the graphics are amazing, the controls are precise and the soundtrack is trailblazing but what sets Uncharted 2 apart is the fact that it's one of the best written games I've ever played. Taking that a step further, the game may have some of the best writing I've seen in any entertainment medium over the last year. The game is a little predictable in parts but there are still enough twists to keep it entertaining.
The game doesn't take itself too seriously and with plenty of humor built in to relive tension and keep things light. It does come close to self awareness on a few occasions it thankfully avoids crossing the threshold into self awareness. It also manages to work in a nice romantic triangle, presenting Drake with his own Betty and Veronica to choose from. The game elegantly works these items in without beating you over the head with it.
What's fantastic about the game is how Naughty Dog tells the story. The game starts with Drake awaking bloody and bruised on a train that teetering on the edge of the cliff. From there the game flashes back to explain how Drake got into this predicament before taking you through the rest the game. During the rest of the game you'll play through tropical forest, frozen tundras, and cities (both modern and ancient).
The game does lift most it's plot structure from the first game as once again Drake is chasing down a mysterious artifact to keep it out of the hands of a madmen. This time around the historical figure of note is Marco Polo (replacing Sir Francis Drake) and the object of concern is the Cintamani stone (instead of El Dorado). While the framework is familiar the difference is the addition of a few mature plot points to the story. There are still some of the pulp elements and sense of humor from the first game but Naughty Dog has added some mature overtones to the game which makes it a little darker than the first game. They don't go all Empire Strikes Back on the player but it's a nice progression of the franchise.
The puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag. Like the first game you have to use Nathan's journal to decipher them but unlike the first game you don't really know when those pages are added to the journal. They do require some interpretation on your part but they aren't exactly at the Professor Layton level of difficulty. The game also has what I called shooting puzzles where Nathan had to take out large quantities of bad guys in short order. This requires a lot of trial and error (i.e. you die a lot) and could be a little frustrating at times.
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